In-depth

The top 5 ransomware trends in 2017

We take a look at the top ransomware trends for the year ahead

It's not enough to know that ransomware attacks are a threat to you and your business, you also need to be aware of the trends that have been gaining traction among the criminal community. In 2016, 62 new ransomware families were created, and there was a 11-fold jump in modifications between January and September. All of this comes as hackers become more sophisticated in how they target individuals and businesses, making it more important than ever to stay informed.

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Here are five of the most important emerging trends in the ransomware landscape for 2017 and beyond.

Cerber, Locky and other modifications

Last year saw the arrival of 44,287 new strands of ransomware, distributed via spam attachments and exploit kits. Such is their widespread effect that they are now considered big players in the cyberthreat world, hitting individual users and companies alike.

The two biggest examples of this are Cerber and Locky (now the number two strain detected by 7.07 per cent of users across 114 countries), with CryptXXX following closely behind. To find out more about the most common ransomware modifications, download Kaspersky's full report).

Hijacked educational ransomware

Researchers attempting to tackle the problem of this type of malware unintentionally caused more problems for themselves by creating educational' ransomware designed to allow system administrators to simulate a genuine attack. However, criminals saw this as an opportunity and began using the tools for their own nefarious means.

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How did this happen? Well, the developer of Hidden Tear & EDA2 posted the source code on GitHub, and soon after Trojans based on this code - such as Ded Cryptor and Fantom - began to appear.

Ransomware written in scripting languages

More and more cryptor ransomware has started to be found written in scripting languages, with Kaspersky discovering several new families written in Python - including HolyCrypt and CryPy - in Q3 of 2016 alone. This looks set to continue in 2017.

Disk encryption

A particularly nasty method that hackers have begun to use is disk encryption, which sees all files on a hard drive blocked or encrypted at the same time. When a user is struck with a Trojan such as Petya or Dcryptor (aka Mamba), the operating system, apps, shared files and personal data on the machine all become inaccessible.

Read more about some of the unconventional methods criminals have begun to use, such as manual infection techniques, in the full Kaspersky report (download here).

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Amateur or copycat Trojans

Perhaps the trend that will evolve most to become more complex in 2017, many of the Trojans detected in the past year have been found to be low-quality or copycats of more sophisticated malware. They can be identified by the inherent software flaws and clumsy errors in accompanying notes, with Kaspersky finding many examples of this (read the comprehensive guide to the Ransomware Revolution here).

For example, Bart emulates both Locky's payment page and its ransom note, and an Autoit copycat being called AutoLocky' uses the same extension. Polyglot also completely mirrors the appearance and processing approach of CTB-Locker.

Karl Walsh, cybersecurity consultant at Capgemini, said: "When one attack vector, such as ransomware, gains popularity there will always be those that copy it, either directly or by taking the code and adding their own additional features. On the face of it, ransomware is money for old rope, which only serves to increase its attractiveness.

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"It is viewed as low risk and people do pay up, even though decryption of the files is patchy and not guaranteed. That said, staying anonymous while collecting the money is difficult and the rewards aren't always as great as they might seem."

This trend is especially concerning to cyber security professionals, then, due to its suggestion that more low-level criminals are jumping on the ransomware bandwagon, without the technical knowhow to properly carry out the process.

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